The Family Literacy Project

Country Profile: South Africa

Population

47,432,000 (2007 estimate)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):

10.7% (1990-2004)

Official Languages

Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

5.5

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

51% (2005)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15–24 years)

94% (1995-2004)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)
  • Total: 82%
  • Male: 84%
  • Female: 81%
Sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleThe Family Literacy Project
Language of Instructionmother-tongue, English
Date of Inceptionsince 2000

Context

In South Africa it is estimated that between 7.4 and 8.5 million adults are functionally illiterate and that between 2.9 and 4.2 million people have never attended school. One million children in South Africa live in a household where no adult can read. In a recent survey, it was found that just over 50% of South African families own no books for recreational or leisure time reading. It is perhaps not very surprising, given this information, that a national evaluation carried out by the Department of Education in 2003 found that the average Reading Comprehension and Writing score for Grade 3 children was only 39%.

The Family Literacy Project (FLP) is based in the southern Drakensberg area of KwaZulu-Natal with a population of 300,000. The unemployment rate currently stands at 41% and 66% of households live on less than R 800 (equivalent to 80 US$) per month. The majority of people have no access to electricity or proper sanitation and this has serious consequences in an area where it is estimated that 30% of the population is HIV positive.

Programme

The project is aimed at families as a means of addressing the low literacy achievement of many pre- and primary school children, and the lack of confidence of parents in their ability to provide support to these children. As the parents (or those who take on the role of parents) are the first and most important educators of children, the family literacy approach supports both adults and children.

The FLP was set up in 2000 in response to findings that showed that the literacy scores of pre-school children were not improving, despite government interventions in the early childhood sector. Initially, monthly meetings were held with the parents of pre-school children to work with them to strengthen their role in early literacy development. By the end of that year, the parents were more confident in their ability to support their children whatever their own levels of literacy. These parents, and others in the area, requested that the FLP provide adult literacy tuition. Each group chose a member of their community to take part in training organised by the FLP. These women have since been trained in adult literacy (mother tongue and English as a second language), early literacy, and the participatory Reflect approach. Participation by the group members is important as the FLP believes that local knowledge is significant and relevant and that any new information must be integrated into this knowledge.

Implementation of the programme

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The nine programme facilitators currently work in the following villages in Southern KwaZulu-Natal: Bethlehem, Come and See, Ncwadi (all near Bulwer), Lotheni, Stepmore, Makholweni and Mahwaqa (near Underberg), Mathendeni (near Donnybrook), Mpumlwane and Ndodeni (near Centocow). They use school classrooms, community halls, churches and community libraries for their meetings.

All the facilitators and group members are from the community in which the groups operate. The age of the group members ranges from 21 to 79, with the average age being 48. Since there is no defined end to the programme, group members do not have to leave the project until they choose to do so.

Objectives

The main objectives of the programme are:

Single Projects

To achieve these objectives the FLP has launched a number of individual projects.

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As the Family Literacy Project is aware of the fact that literacy skills need to be used regularly in order to maintain them, group members are encouraged to contribute to the project newsletter, have pen friends, write for community notice boards and keep journals with their children:

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The problem of low levels of literacy in adults and children is exacerbated by the lack of books in the area. To address this challenge, the project established three community libraries and eight box libraries which are run by project facilitators with the assistance of group members.

The adult groups focus on building literacy skills, sharing local knowledge and introducing new information where necessary. Topics covered in the groups range from children’s rights and protection to women’s health, environmental issues, and committee and budgeting skills. The adult groups regularly discuss issues related to children, consider way of supporting their development, and have fun with them as they read or look at books together.

The groups made up of teenagers and primary school children explore a wide range of issues and relate these to the enjoyment of books and reading. Often, the topics will be the same as those covered in the adult groups, providing opportunities for families to discuss these issues together at home.

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Materials

Project staff have developed learning materials and easy-to-read books that are available in both Zulu and English. The topics covered in these books include early literacy development, parenting, HIV/AIDS and resilience. The facilitators are provided with all units (lesson plans), as well as posters and leaflets where these are appropriate and available. The project supplies stationery for the adult, teenage and children’s groups.

A facilitator’s guide and learner’s workbook were developed to share the projects approach to family literacy. The project offers the Introduciton to Family Literacy course to other NGOs and government departments. Likewise for our hc-IMCI programme we developed a facilitator’s guide and learner’s workbook in English and Zulu.

Challenges and Future Plans

The main barrier to the smooth running of group sessions is posed by the members’ workload. Women will miss sessions when they have to cut thatching grass, re-thatch their homes, or rebuild/plaster walls. If a government-funded initiative requires short-term workers, FLP group members are often the first to apply and as a result will be absent from the sessions for the duration of the contract.

Another challenge is the state of the roads in this remote rural area. The roads are bad even when the weather is good, often impassable when it rains or snows. This disrupts the support that the project offers by visiting each facilitator once a month.

As NGO work is dependent largely on donor funding, donors who change their priorities can pose a real challenge to the NGO because it then has to source new donors. For example, FLP’s 2006 budget was R1, 600,000,(US $160 000), but it is not possible to extract the cost per learner from this total, as the very small staff of 3 full timers and 7 part-timers is involved not only with group work but also materials development, outreach, fundraising and management. In addition, the project contracts a health specialist and external evaluators and these costs are included in the overall budget. As donors do not make long-term commitments and some do not let organizations know in advance when they are going to change their funding criteria, this poses a major challenge to the FLP.

Meantime, as many people – convinced of the importance of the intergenerational transfer of knowledge, skills and support – are working to raise the profile of family literacy in South Africa, as in many other countries, it is possible that resources, whether financial and technical, will be forthcoming.

The FLP must maintain the focus on families as new members join the project. The first members, many of whom are still in the project, joined because they were interested in learning more about how they could help their young children and at the same time develop their own literacy skills. It is important that women who now join this well-established and recognised project realise and subscribe to its core mission and vision.

Achievements

So far, the programme reaches 162 adults, 350 primary school children and 52 teenagers during group session. 500 children (under 18 years) are reached through adult members. 335 children are visited in 130 homes. Members are motivated to remain in the programme because they are treated with respect and the programme is relevant to them and their families. FLP experiences low drop-out rates and when members are absent they send apologies and give reasons.

The women who joined the project in the first years have not only become competent facilitators but are also able to speak at meetings/conferences and lead training courses outside their own area. Their confidence has grown and the main challenge now is how they are going to meet the different demands on their time.

Danisile Gladys Duma (b.1948) has been a regular member since the first family literacy meetings held in Lotheni. In 2003 she wrote (in Zulu):

“I was born in kwaNoguqa and grew up in Mpendle. I started school and went as far as Std 2. I stopped schooling because my home had nothing. I stayed at home, although I desired to learn, but I had to look after cattle. I was married when I was 15 years old … during the ninth year (of marriage), I had a baby girl …. She is the only child I have. My child grew up and went to school. I had wished that my child should be educated and not have to go through a similar experience to me, as I had a very sad experience because I was not educated. In 2001, an adult school was established, and I joined it. Now my life is interesting, and I am free. I thank this adult school.”

Monitoring and Evaluation

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The project has been evaluated annually and the latest reports are available on the FLP website. The recommendations from the evaluations are taken seriously and followed up each year by the external evaluator. Different evaluation approaches have been used, including storytelling, photographs and stories, focus groups, interviews, and group members reflecting on their own practice.

Several prizes and awards underline the innovative character of the programme.

Lessons Learned

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The most important lesson learned has been that children who are supported by their parents usually do well at school, and that this motivates adults to continue offering this support. The FLP has also learned that well-supported facilitators are key to the successful implementation of the programme. Family literacy can be developed in different ways and benefit both adults and children. The FLP experience has shown that combining adult and early literacy in a participatory manner can work.

The exchange of experience is a rich source of ideas and input that helps to increase the quality and impact of the programme. It is for this reason that FLP staff have been meeting with other organizations and government departments to explore how to offer family literacy in a way most appropriate in the different contexts. To do this, FLP draws on its experience and shares the lessons learned with others.

Contact

Lynn Stefano
Director
Family Literacy Project
Box 441 Hillcrest 3650
KwaZulu-Natal
South Africa
email:stefanola (at) telkomsa.net

Weblink

www.familyliteracyproject.co.za